Can violent cartoons teach our kids valuable life lessons?

violent cartoons replaced by good ones

I’d like to think that most parents are aware of the widely publicised ‘dangers’ of exposing our kids to violence through television, games and even toys and try to protect their offspring from such things. There are numerous studies detailing the effects that these shows and games have on young children and how it influences their behaviour and social interactions, but is it possible that these shows teach children valuable life lessons?

I’m quite strict with what my little girls view and they mostly watch DSTV 306 or 309 with firm favourites being Mister Maker and Pajanimals. I try to keep an eye on the content of the shows, in between doing everything else that must get done, and I can change channel if something inappropriate starts but it’s not always possible.

I once let them watch Dora the Explorer on another channel and got busy with something else so the girls started watching the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by default. They didn’t watch much of the show before I changed the channel but less than a week later my 2-year-old picked up a vuvuzela and pretended to shoot her sister with sound effects accompanied by giggling. I felt guilty and I took the vuvuzela away and asked her what she was doing and told her it was not nice…but I still felt guilty resulting in this attempt at convincing myself that somewhere amongst the cartoon violence our kids are being exposed to daily intentional or not, there’s a little bit of good.

Most cartoons for older age groups follow the classic scenario of the baddy versus the goody. Ben10, Lilo & Stitch, Kung Fu Panda, Tom & Jerry, even SpongeBob all have storylines that follow the pattern of conflict and resolution, and inevitably the goody wins. We may not approve of the methods, like Jerry bashing Tom over the head or the aliens in Lilo & Stitch being vaporised but it does introduce the concept of “problems” and “good versus bad” without the young impressionable viewers having to deal with it in real life, we hope. On the flipside, the good guy doesn’t always win in real life…so does it teach them anything? Does it pressure them into positioning themselves as either good or bad?

This article was originally written for Jozikids by Sholain Govender- Bateman in 2013.

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Sholain Govender-Bateman

Sholain Govender-Bateman

Sholain Govender-Bateman – New Media journalism lecturer and editor who worked for newspapers & edited magazines. She is mum to two gorgeous girls, Isobel and Aishwari, wife to Barry Bateman. Visit her on Twitter @sholain

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15 Responses

  1. This is an on going struggle for me. My son is almost 4 years old and is not interested in Mickey Mouse or Mister Maker any more. Every time the TV goes on its a fight about which channel he may watch. I have never exposed him to Ben 10 or Ninja Turtles however he is obsessed with it. We have friends with older children and he loves the T shirts, watches, shoes etc etc of all these programmes and YES at times i am not quick enough to change a channel and he watches programmes that I don't find appropriate for the kids channel……… what to do…… what to do?????

  2. Here's the thing. What ends up happening is that they replicate in play, what they absorb on TV. So the game of cat and mouse, alien, monster whatever then is played out in the garden or school yard. Often the violence, even dumbed down, finds its way into play and all too often there is a unsuspecting victim. Innocent as it may seem, here is the crux: Such mimicry robs our children of the imagination that is so vital to development in the early years. All they end up doing is regurgitating and playing out what they have seen and thereby loosing the ability to delve into there inner self and find pleasure in what lies in front of them.
    Not that my wife are totally anti screen media, but it needs to be limited and most definitely age appropriate. Read the book "Remotely Controlled" by Aric Sigman

  3. I’ve got a very active and smart 3 year old girl and we try very hard to minimise time spent watching tv .We literally control what she watches on tv by watching it first before we allow her to watch. What’ve noticed is that, she likes anything that’s musical so when we buy DVDs for her, they have to be musical and have an educational element to it, also it has to be something that we can play in the car when we travel, we love the beautiful creatures series and they are great for the home and the road.
    The biggest issue that I’m having is when she goes for play dates, there I can’t control what she watches from other homes, which is why we try not to have too many play dates.
    Kids will always catch on bad things if not from home, then from school or friends, as bad as this may sound but it is a reality.

  4. We have a very simple and amazingly effective rule… NO TV in the week at all, and on the weekends, one movie is allowed on each weekend day. The movies we have are mostly musicals and set in the 50's and our 6 year old ABSOLUTELY loves them! Since the no TV rule, she is easier to be around, less fussy and sleeps so much better. Her imagination is remarkable and every situation become a game of fun for her and other children that visit. It's a lot easier than you think!

  5. A picture is worth a thousand words. I am very gun proud thank you very much, I grew up with Tom and Jerry and I loved them, They are a good example that their are good people and bad people. i have no Problem with my child punching another spoilt bratty bully in the throat if they choose to try and mess with my child. It worked for me at school. Life is full of violence particularly our country and you are wasting time worrying about cartoons? It is up to parents to teach children the difference between violence and defence. I personally have no problem putting ten bullets into the head of a violent criminal who breaks into my property and tries to rape or murder my children or me. There aren't many televisions in the townships, they have their own laws so stop nit picking this and look to the real problem.

  6. Block nickelodeon as a channel under the decoder's parental guidance functionality. That way Dora can be unlocked by pin code when they want to watch it and the decoder will automatically lock the channel for the following programs.

  7. i agree, life isnt a picnic and you can put cottonwool around your kids for only so long. Let me tell you all those parents who stop their kids from watching tv – they are tv ADDICTS when they go on play dates. you dont allow your kid sugar, they are the ones that when they are out they put 10 spoons of sugar in their tea. you dont allow them sweets – they are the ones making pigs of themsevles on playdates. i have seen it over and over and over and i have a good giggle when i ask that child "are you allowed to have sugar at home or are you allowed to watch tv at home" we all know what the answer is. stop being so paranoid everyone.. i agree with you Steffi Rödel

  8. I don't encourage drive by shootings, I encourage safety and respect for a weapon. I have also never witnessed a gun jump up and shoot anyone on its own. The weapon is not the problem, the person wielding it is. Teach your children how to use a weapon and how to have respect for your weapons. Never hesitate when you are under attack it will result in death or serious injury if you are lucky.

    Boys are naturally aggressive, they rough and tumble and most often with their little sisters but every woman I have met has been better for it as a result because they don't take nonsense from other men! My father raised three girls, and we were taught to smack a bully on the nose. It worked then to ward off bully's who are very often over indulged and cowardly children. It also worked in the work place for corporate bullies but the rules of the game changed. These cartoons are more about good versus evil and more often then not you have to show your physical steel even when you feel too small to do so. The moral of a show such as Tom and Jerry is not to be intimidated by the big guys.

    Children will be exposed to violence in our very headlines and the reality of a school play ground. This is how they establish pecking order and it is natural. The problem is that parents and teachers try to stifle anger in children when they fight instead of letting them occasionally have it out. This suppression of anger and aggression is what actually leads to things such as school stabbings because the anger boils to this point when kept inside.

    Surely this is the lesson that will be better taught rather than trying to put their heads in the sand and pretend it is not happening.

    If you really want a media to fear, Internet is the one to censor.

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